The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Posts Categorized: Collections

What are ancient coins doing at the Folger Shakespeare Library?

Thanks for the great guesses at the identity of the November 2019 Crocodile. It’s tempting to pick one at random and just run with it (“Why yes, it is King Lear’s lost button!”) but in fact, Robin Swope’s guess that it’s an old coin is correct. It is, in fact, a bronze prutah of Porcius Festus, Roman procurator of Judea. It’s dated the 5th year of Emperor Nero’s rule, which means it’s from 58 or 59 CE.… Continue Reading

Untangling Lady Day dating and the Julian calendar

Folger X.c.92 (3) is my new favorite manuscript: it’s a letter written in Paris that single-handedly demonstrates the fact that “new style” dates refer to two different calendar modernizations. One modernization has to do with the Christian calendar’s reckoning of “the year of our Lord.” The other relates to the Julian calendar having gradually become ten days behind the seasonal year thanks to its miscalculation that a leap year is needed every four years, no exceptions.… Continue Reading

Imagining an 18th century Jane Doe

A fake woman with fake initials and a fake seal? What is going on with these early 18th century affidavits? Curator of Manuscripts Heather Wolfe explores burials, bureaucracy, and "ritualized compliance" in this post about two recent acquisitions.

The Strange and Practical Beauty of Small-Format Herbals

A guest post by Katarzyna Lecky The Folger Shakespeare Library has a wealth of pre-Linnaean English herbals (printed guides to the medicinal qualities of plants) ranging from gorgeous folios to pocket-sized reference manuals. Although the large-format botanical works boast an undeniable aesthetic appeal with their elaborate frontispieces and pages filled with engraved plates of flora, little herbals are often more compelling for those of us interested in who used them, how, and why.… Continue Reading

Of Counts and Causes: The Emergence of the London Bills of Mortality

A guest post by Dr. Kristin Heitman The Folger’s rare holdings let us glimpse aspects of Renaissance and early modern practices otherwise lost to us. For example, while many European cities and towns had well-documented methods for monitoring the health of their residents, particularly during plague epidemics, significant details of the programs’ inner workings are disclosed only in a series of Folger documents—particularly for the City of London.… Continue Reading

Polyglot Poetics: Transnational Early Modern Literature

A guest post by Dr. Nigel Smith I am writing a transnational history of early modern European literature. Our inherited history of the different early modern vernacular languages and their literatures was fashioned through the lens of the 19th-century and earlier 20th-century nationalism, and this story is one of how each literature descended from the Greek and Roman classics via the Italian Renaissance.… Continue Reading

Was early modern writing paper expensive?

Many of us have repeated the assertion that writing paper in early modern England was expensive and scarce, but it has always bothered me. After hearing this fairly regularly in response to two common questions —“Why did people write on the endleaves of printed books?” and “Why are there no ‘Shakespeare manuscripts’?”—I started keeping track of paper prices in account books and bills and receipts to see if this was actually true.… Continue Reading

The Shakespeare stamps

As several philatelically-astute readers quickly identified, the portrait of Shakespeare shown in last week’s Crocodile mystery is from a stamp!     These one shilling stamps were issued annually for a number of years at the turn of the 20th century. Each stamp used the same image of Shakespeare, a depiction loosely adapted from his memorial in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, printed in a different color each year.… Continue Reading

Books of Offices

A guest post by Nicholas Popper The Folger has fourteen of an odd, unloved sort of manuscript that I’ve taken to calling “Books of Offices,” which exist in over a hundred versions throughout archives in the US and UK. Typically entitled with variations of “A survaye or Booke of Offices aswell of his Majesty’s Courts of Recorde as of his Majesty’s most noble household,” or “A collection of all the offices of England with their fees and allowance in the King’s Gift,” they differ markedly from the well-known humanist descriptions of English governance written by Thomas Smith and William Harrison.… Continue Reading

The Case Files

The problem with using IDs in mysteries is we also attempt to make them easy to discover. Elisabeth Chaghafi got it in one: this number belongs to X.d.131 and marks this item as one of Henry and Emily Folger’s original contributions to the Folger’s holdings. This number is known here at the Folger Shakespeare Library as a case number. They were usually written unobtrusively in pencil somewhere on the items bought by the Folgers, during the period when their personal collection was being transformed into our library.… Continue Reading